Classic TV movie: ‘The Norliss Tapes’

norliss tapes title card

“The Norliss Tapes” is one of those TV movies best remembered for its freaky, scary moments.

It seems it scared the hell out of a lot of kids back in the day. I know it made an impression on me.

The movie, which aired in 1973, was pretty clearly inspired by the success of “The Night Stalker” a year earlier. The two movies shared a premise – a writer investigating the undead – and Dan Curtis, the producer of “The Night Stalker,” produced and directed here.

“The Norliss Tapes” is no “Night Stalker,” however. But it’s a pretty good scare-fest.

The story begins with David Norliss, a writer with a contract to write a book exposing phony psychic phenomena, talking to his publisher and sounding bleak. Norliss (played by David Thinnes of “The Invaders” fame) recounts – via audio cassettes – how he found it easy to debunk mystics and psychics … but then he got caught up in the story of Ellen Cort (Angie Dickinson). Cort tells Norliss that she’s been attacked by – and she subsequently shot – a particularly strange intruder in her home: Her late husband Jim.

the norliss tapes creature

The storyline plays out not unlike “The Night Stalker,” with seemingly random murders by a supernatural being running counterpoint to the mystery of the apparently resurrected Jim Cort. The plots tie together, of course. As a matter of fact, there’s not a lot of mystery or subtlety, as Cort – freaky eyes and blue skin prominently displayed – is clearly the attacker.

Norliss begins investigating the possibility that Cort – whose body rests peacefully in his family crypt – is getting up and attacking people in the dead of night. And what about that mysterious Egyptian ring Cort was wearing?

dan curtis

Director Curtis was the man behind groundbreaking supernatural TV shows like “Dark Shadows” and “The Night Stalker,” and “The Norliss Tapes” shows that. The movie has a style and a music soundtrack familiar to fans of those shows. Robert Cobert, a Dan Curtis regular creative partner, was the composer of the score here.

Some cast members of “The Night Stalker” even recur here, including Stanley Adams as a witness and Claude Akins as a gruff sheriff who’s only too happy to keep a lid on spooky happenings.

Michelle Carey, a gorgeous 1960s and 1970s actress with a breathy, throaty voice, plays Ellen Cort’s sister and a friend of Norliss.

Keep watching through the end credits: There’s a recapping series of  scare scenes, ala “The Night Stalker,” among the credits.

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